Where Next: Ibrahim Sangaré
Since his breakthrough a couple of seasons ago, Ibrahim Sangaré has constantly been linked with a number of clubs. Reece Chambers assesses three possible destinations for the 22-year-old midfielder.
The French high court may have temporarily saved Toulouse from almost certain relegation from Ligue 1 this season, but the club will have a job on their hands to keep hold of Ibrahim Sangaré in the next transfer window – whenever that may be.
Toulouse struggled during the Ligue 1 2019/20 campaign before the French football authorities took the unprecedented decision to curtail the season and cancel relegation. Despite a tough campaign for Sangaré’s side, the 22-year-old proved why he deserved a move to a more stable club in the next transfer window.
As a central midfielder, the Ivorian is adept at covering depth in defensive areas and recovering possession to get his side on the front foot. Whilst that has come with minimal overall success this season, it would be fair to attribute that to his team-mates and the collective effort, rather than his individual performances.
Beyond his defensive traits, Sangaré is a decent ball-carrier, passer, and could thrive in a balanced side that would allow him to develop his on-ball skills. Despite primarily operating as a comparatively all-action midfielder, he has a well-rounded set of attributes that could see him develop primarily as a defensive midfielder, or one that looks to influence proceedings in the final third more frequently.
With a number of clubs reportedly interested in signing him, I’ve taken a look at how Sangaré could fit into three possible destinations: Everton, Newcastle United, and Stade Rennais.
The extent to which Carlo Ancelotti needs to be given backing to add depth in midfield in the upcoming transfer window cannot be underestimated. Recent news that Jean-Philippe Gbamin has suffered another long-term injury was another setback for the club that already had minimal options in central midfield. Ancelotti currently has André Gomes, Fabian Delph, Gylfi Sigurdsson, Tom Davies, and Morgan Schneiderlin on the books – the latter of whom will depart Goodison Park next month for OGC Nice in his native France.
Therefore, recruiting a player who can finally go some way to filling the defensive void left by Idrissa Gana Gueye’s departure to Paris Saint-Germain last summer is a priority, and Sangaré has a number of attributes to suggest he could do just that.
As a central midfielder in an otherwise struggling Toulouse side, Sangaré has been highly active in defensive actions this season and StatsBomb data indicates how effective he has been. With 7.57 success pressures per 90 minutes this season, the rangy midfielder ranks in the 88th percentile compared to other central/defensive midfielders across Europe’s top five leagues. Moreover, Sangaré has ranked among the most prolific tacklers in Ligue 1 since his standout 2017/18 season. Whilst his output has trended downward since, he has made 3.5 tackles per 90 in each of his last three seasons. For Everton, the addition of a dynamic midfielder accustomed to providing effective defensive cover plugs a substantial hole which the current core of fit midfielders have struggled to address.
We have seen from the early stages of Ancelotti’s time at Goodison Park that he prefers the use of a 4-4-2 formation and continuing with that system would strengthen the case for signing Sangaré. His ability to cover depth in midfield – which is hard to quantify statistically, but an obvious aspect of his game when watching him – only accentuates his impressive defensive statistics. Sangaré's skillset is compatible with André Gomes for example, a player who links play to a decent standard with his passing but is a liability in defensive phases. Everton's midfield needs a lot of restructuring, and Sangaré would be a solid start.
With talk of new ownership comes heightened transfer speculation and Newcastle United have been a case in point over the last couple of months. Gossip columns linking the club with audacious moves for Gareth Bale or Philippe Coutinho suggest silly season may stick to the North East for a while yet.
However, a move for Sangaré stands as a far more plausible transfer if he does, as is almost certain, seek new pastures that offer guaranteed minutes on the pitch. Having made a name for himself in a team fighting relegation in Ligue 1, the midfielder is used to playing in defensive systems that have limited creativity – which suggests he could fit in at Steve Bruce's Newcastle.
While his numbers from a defensive standpoint stack up well, Sangaré could add some valuable dynamism to Newcastle’s midfield. If, or when, the club is taken over by owners willing to invest, Bruce may need to look at adopting a more expansive style of football. In Sangaré, Newcastle would be handed a small but not insignificant boost in terms of creativity from midfield as shown by him ranking in the 79th percentile for open-play shot-creating actions. Such contribution in attacking phases would be welcome when you consider that Newcastle have generated the lowest-ranking Expected Goals in the Premier League this season, with 25.3 xG.
Sangaré would also add a level of ball progression to Newcastle's midfield. As per StatsBomb data available on FBref.com, he carries the ball more often than any Newcastle midfielder – with at least 10 more carrying actions per 90 than Newcastle's highest, Jonjo Shelvey – and completes more dribbles too. His ability to travel with the ball at his feet is an aspect of his game which immediately catches the eye, and it could translate well to the high-intensity of the Premier League.
When those on-ball attributes are considered alongside his established defensive skill, Sangaré presents a really interesting – and readily attainable – option for Newcastle. However, any move is likely dependent on the player’s ambitions and whether he considers a move to Tyneside as a natural step in his personal development. Under the club's prospective new ownership group, it is difficult to see how that would not be the case.
The curtailment of the Ligue 1 season was highly controversial, and that controversy will only continue to be relevant given that the other four major European leagues will have resumed by the end of June. For Stade Rennais, though, it has acted as a momentous point in their history, with qualification secured for next season’s UEFA Champions League.
Although Sangaré is relatively unproven at the top level of European football, Rennes have demonstrated their faith in younger players on several occasions in recent years and remaining in France may be viewed favourably by the player.
Interest in Rennes’ own young midfielder, Eduardo Camavinga, from various high profile clubs in Europe could mean that they will be in the market for a replacement in the near future. Whether or not Camavinga does leave in the next window remains to be seen, but staying with Rennes could see the start of an exciting partnership between Sangaré and the 17-year-old.
Sangaré has registered 78 Ligue 1 appearances since making his debut as an 18-year-old and his exponential growth on the pitch may suggest France as the best place for that to continue. Signing for Rennes, therefore, would give the midfielder a chance to play for a higher quality side in the same division and also be afforded the chance of Champions League football. The only sticking point would be that his skillset is quite similar to another rangy midfield at Rennes, Steven N'Zonzi. Moreoveer, whilst Rennes are a well-run club with proven ability to spend significant fees on players, the financial may be prohibitive, especially if they're competing with Premier League clubs.
Ibrahim Sangaré’s next move will be vital to his personal development. With that in mind, teaming up with Carlo Ancelotti and Everton might be the option that would grant him the most stable – and, by virtue of the Italian coach, experienced – platform to improve. Rennes stands as an interesting option if he wants to remain in France and the club seeks to find a Camavinga replacement. Newcastle could benefit from his arrival too. But a move to Everton would perhaps be the most logical in terms of his compatability and progression for both player and club.
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